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For the Preservation of the Deposit of the Faith
For the Kingdom of God to come!
Do you remember, Ephrem, that young worker whom we saw one day at my wife’s house, and whose beauty and modesty we noticed? Her name was Eulalie Duval. Twenty years old, tall, well built, with big blond curls, beautiful downcast eyes, a lot of distinction in her voice, in her attitude, and, as my wife told me, in her mind. She worked very well and very agilely, but she was in charge of a crippled mother and a young brother: her work did not pull her out of need. Extreme fatigue, hardships to which she had not been accustomed, made her ill, at a time when my wife, who loved her very much, was away. Apart from us, she only knew poor people. Her discomfort soon became misery, and the poor girl almost died of hunger. We returned to Versailles a few days before her death, too late to save her. My wife, having been to visit her, returned quite moved.
“Come, come, she said to me; come and see the saddest and most beautiful spectacle that this world can offer!”
She led me into a naked and cold room, where on a destitute bed I saw Eulalie, paler, but more beautiful and serene than I had yet seen her.
“My poor child, I said to her, you are very ill. How we regret not having known it sooner! Hope however: at your age, one comes back from a long way, and we will take care that nothing misses you.
– Sir, she answered, I thank you. Carry your kindness to my mother. As for me, I have received the last sacraments, I have no more needs.
– Put away these sad ideas, I resumed, misunderstanding completely the bottom of her thoughts. It is not time to despair.
– But, continued Eulalie, with an indescribable smile, I am far from despairing; on the contrary, I have great hopes, and it is not sad to go to God. I have lived in piety and innocence; I die in peace.
– Don’t you suffer?
– I suffer, but I am happy.
– Don’t you miss your mother?
– God who recalls me will take care of my mother. I will pray to Him for her… And He knows,” she added with a deep expression, the meaning of which was revealed to me later, “He knows how much I have trusted in Him.” As she said these words, she took my wife’s hand:
“Is it not true, Madame, she said to her, that monsieur your husband will be one of my mother’s good protectors, for God’s sake?
– Yes,” cried my wife, with an accent and tears that my heart can still hear; “yes, for God’s sake. And you, Eulalie, will protect him with God.
– Certainly, Madame, said Eulalie, and God will hear me.”
She turned to me again: “Sir, she said, do me one more favor. You have a good and pious maid, allow her to join the companions I have invited to my funeral, and send her to me before I die, so that I may recommend her to live as I do.”
Eulalie’s mother, a very respectable and sensible woman, told us as she drove us home that, since her daughter had been administered to, she no longer recognized her. Before, an almost excessive shyness prevented her from speaking to people she did not know intimately, and the fear of God’s judgment froze her with fear at the mere thought of death. “Now, she added, you have just seen and heard her: she speaks to everyone with tranquillity and even with authority; she awaits her last day with a kind of impatience she never had, even as a child, to attend any party; she invites her friends to it; she tells us things that astonish and change us. Could you believe it, Sir, I, her mother, who lose in her my support, my consolation and my joy, see her approaching the end of her life with a kind of happiness. This dear little one is so convinced that she is going to find the good Lord and tells me so confidently that I believe it as she does. For it is not delirium that makes her talk like this: she has all her reason, and more than her reason. She sees things that we do not see. Sometimes her open eyes express rapture, she seems to be listening to heavenly words, and I kneel down, for I believe that our poor room is full of angels who come to assist my daughter in her agony. At other times, when pain makes her sigh, if I say to her: You are suffering! she answers me as she does you: I am suffering, but I am happy. It also happened to me to say to her: You do not miss your mother? and she answered me: We will comfort you. Finally, what shall I say to you: she is still on earth and she is not there anymore; and, seeing her happiness, I cannot mourn her.”
As she said these words, the good woman was crying. And yet it was true that she saw her daughter die with peace and a kind of happiness.
I had heard about these mysteries of Christian death, and I did not believe in them. I didn’t realize it. I said like La Rochefoucauld: The sun and death cannot look at each other fixedly. But the heart has its reasons that reason does not know, and the science of God has its wonders that human science knows even less. God wanted me to witness one of these wonders.
Drawn by an invincible attraction, I returned to Madame Duval’s that same day, quite early in the night. She told me that her daughter was at the end of her rope. Indeed, Eulalie was entering into a crisis so violent that I thought she was going to pass away: the pulse was barely beating, the voice was taken, the face already bore the imprint of death. Ineffable and august imprint! I remembered that Italian artist of the fifteenth century, who, having devoted himself to sculpting crucifixes, studied all his life at the bedside of the dying, in order to capture the beauties with which the face of the children of God is illuminated at the last hour. Madame Duval lit a candle, beckoned me to hold it in the hand of her almost lifeless daughter, and, kneeling down, began the prayers of the dying. We were alone, on either side of the dying woman. Madame Duval was reading in a weak and interrupted voice, and as these prayers were still unknown to me, I was listening without answering. Suddenly, the dying woman, addressing her mother, said with a smile: “Don’t bother, dear mother. They are read to me. Madame Duval gave me a look that I will never forget, and bowed down; I had remained standing, I knelt down in my turn, for the first time. I heard nothing, at least not with my ears; for with my eyes fixed on the attentive and radiant face of the dying woman, and on her lips moved by interior prayer, I heard everything. And when later I read these sublime invocations, it seemed to me that I recognized them.
After some time, Eulalie made the sign of the cross, sighed softly and deeply and remained immobile, breathless, cold, with her eyes open. We thought that everything was over. Madame Duval, with a trembling hand, set about closing her eyes. A light movement of the eyelids and lips stopped her. I put my ear close to the girl’s mouth, and I heard these words: No, no, not yet. The day of the Holy Virgin, tomorrow, at four o’clock. Astonished, I resolved to wait; and, indeed, without new crisis, without rattle, without anguish, the next day, Saturday, at four o’clock in the morning, Eulalie breathed her last.
You think I went out of there to examine my life and make my general confession. Well, no. I was moved, stirred and troubled to the core of my soul, but not decided. I admired the courage of this young girl, I admired the strength of her religious feeling, and I was looking for explanations that would exempt me from giving in to the evidence of the truth. God had pity on me, and, if you will pardon the expression, did not let me go.
I went to Eulalie’s funeral with my wife and daughters. We were alone in our condition; but of all her companions none was missing, and if ever I saw an expression of respect and veneration anywhere, it was there. All these girls, poor workers or poor servants, had an air of dignity and reverence that struck me.
I spoke about it to my wife.
“It is, she said to me, the honor of the city; all that you see there is pious, chaste and humble. They belong to the Congregation of the Blessed Virgin, and there is not one of them who does not practice great virtues. I am sure that all of them have taken or will take communion during the week for Eulalie. At the next meeting, the director of the Congregation will speak to them in praise of this dear companion; they will share with each other, as precious souvenirs, the little objects that belonged to her; more than one will imitate her life and die like her. Many justly honored ladies are less worthy of esteem than these humble servants.
When God wills, all things bear a blow. These simple words were arrows that He threw into my heart.
My wife left me to go see Eulalie’s mother. Left alone under these great trees of Versailles, majestic witnesses of the nothingness of the highest fortunes, I thought of Louis XIV, and of this little worker whom we had just buried, and of God, before whom all souls appear and are judged. I was approached by an old comrade, the man I would least have wished to meet at such a moment. He is what is called a man of pleasure, very rich, healthy and who professes to enjoy himself. He has a name, a status in the world, people see him and give him their hand. If he lost his fortune, he would only be a joke. Yet he was God’s messenger to me.
“Where did you come from?
– From the cemetery, I answered.
– And who did you lose?
– No one. I accompanied there a worker that my wife knew.”
He recreated himself and asked me if I had become a democrat, if I was courting the people. His presence, his face, his language irritated me. I answered him that I knew very few conservatives and royalists of both sexes who deserved as much respect as mademoiselle Duval.
“Duval, he repeated, little Eulalie Duval! Is she the one who died?
– Yes, she is.
– My goodness, that’s a pity! one good girl less.
– Did you know her?” I said in my turn, almost appalled.
– Yes, he said impudently, I knew her, but not as well as I would have liked. What did she die of?
– I think she died of hunger.
– That’s right. I told her so, and it’s her fault. But she was from the congregation, my dear, that is an unaffordable flock. If you love virtue, I can assure you that this seamstress had plenty of it, and quite beyond my means.”
I do not repeat what the wretch dared to add; I did not want to hear all.
After having signified to him that I was breaking off all relations with him, turning back, I returned to the cemetery. There, on the sacred remains of Eulalie, I kneel down and I prayed a long time. I understood the words she had said to me: “God knows how much I loved Him!” I reminded her that she had promised to be my protector in heaven, and full of a strength hitherto unknown, I swore to God not to return home, not to kiss my children, until I had purified my conscience.
Since that day, I am a Christian.